At the beginning of the Cancun climate talks, Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) and other Republican senators questioned the threat to the developing world from climate change, telling President Obama to kill the global climate impacts fund he helped establish last year. Inhofe’s letter argued that the scientific findings about “eventual impacts of climate change in developing countries were found to be exaggerated or simply not true.” In an exclusive interview, Mawusé Hountondji, the executive director of Jeunes Volontaires pour l’Environnement in Benin, told the Wonk Room that the reality is terribly different, but that he hoped politicians would rise to the challenge of leadership:
This year, for example, we are crushed by the impact of climate change. The people who are crushed are those who are very poor, do not have the money to adapt. The politicians who say climate change is not important, I think it is killing people. There are many many people dying because of climate change effects. If I have a message, it is that they must try to do their best. Because this is a problem of future generations.
In French we talk about generation de deux mille cinquante [Generation 2050]. In fifty years — President Obama, President Sarkozy, if you take their age plus fifty, I’m not sure that in fifty years they will be around. But the children will be there. And what kind of world do we want to give them? So that is my message. They must try today through Friday to give us a good document, a better negotiation, and we will be free and ready to help them to do their job.
Catastrophic rains this fall put two-thirds of Benin underwater, as “the worst floods in living memory” killed at least 60 people, left 150,000 people homeless, and caused an outbreak of cholera. “Areas previously thought not to be vulnerable to flooding have been devastated and villages wiped out.” “Even before the floods, an estimated 1 million people in Benin suffered food shortages and more than one-third of children under five were chronically malnourished,” according to a U.N. report.
Hountondji leads the efforts in Benin of Jeunes Volontaires pour l’Environnement (Young Volunteers for the Environment), an international youth organization working in 17 countries in Africa from Togo to Cote d’Ivoire to fight environmental degradation and poverty.